SECOND HALF OF GREGOR MAEHLE:
Patanjali and the declining number of asanas, importance of deleting tissue memory and is pranayama more than Ujjayi or a pause in the breath?
This is Part 2 of the last post and today I will cover the three remaining issues that were raised last week:
2. Was early yoga and Patanjali only referring to sitting postures like Padmasana or also to a multiple set of yoga asanas, as we know them today? Additionally, are the numbers of asanas declining?
3. The importance that yoga places on deleting bodily, tissue and cell memory and what attitude the yogi needs to do so.
4.Is pranayama just the slowing and extension of the breath (aka Ujjayi) or is it more?
Again I need to ask your forgiveness concerning the fact that these articles constitute incomplete fragments and reflections. For should they be complete treatments of these themes they needed to be hundreds of pages long and would take years to publish. Use these articles to crystallize your own thought patterns further and do not expect them to be sermons of the truth but only reflections on yoga.
2. Patanjali is the ancient author of the Yoga Sutra, which describes the foundations of the philosophical school of yoga (yoga darshana). The rishi Vyasa in his commentary (Yoga Bhashya II.46) to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali gives as an example a list of 11 asanas to show that a complete course in yogic asanas is meant here and not just sitting with your head, spine and neck in one straight line. Some of the postures he mentions are Ushtrasana, Paryankasana and Kraunchasana, none of which are meditation postures.
The shastras (scriptures) state that in the beginning there were 8.4 Million asanas (Gheranda Samhita II.1), equal to the number of species in the universe but only the Divine in the form of the Lord Shiva can know all of them. T. Krishnamacharya states in Yoga Makaranda (p. 74, sorry still quoting form the apparently plagiarized Garuda edition, for more info on this issue please go to http://grimmly2007.blogspot.com.au/search?q=yoga+makaranda) that originally 8.4 Million asanas existed but at the time of Shankara only 84,000 were still practiced. A few centuries later during Ramanuja’s teaching only 64,000 were left, which declined to 24,000 during Niganta Mahadesika’s teaching, and so on and so on until we come to Ramamohan Brahmachary who still practiced 7000 as witnessed by T. Krishnamacharya. Do you see the pattern here? He also states (p.75) that only about 84 of those were ever written in texts. Many of today’s Western yoga students see only that part of yoga that has been written down. But that is only the tip of the iceberg, as yoga always was an oral tradition. Not many yogis did write manuals and most of those have been lost. I choose to go with the view of the ancient shastras and with the word of an authentic yogi who studied and practiced almost 100 hundred years, could stop his heartbeat, could quote from hundreds of shastras, etc, etc. I don’t know how you go but I go with Shri T. Krishnamacharya.
Patanjali also defines only the effect that correct asana, pranayama, pratyahara or meditation practice has. He does not describe the many techniques. There are hundreds of yogic pranayamas and meditations and they are not listed in the Yoga Sutra. Does not mean that they are not ancient and original yoga. In this regard the Yoga Sutra has to be understood as the constitution of yoga, not more and not less. The constitution of a country gives only the framework for the general structure of that country. There are many other aspects that are covered in other documents that go into more detail. For example if you go to the car workshop or to the dentist, do you want them to read up in the constitution how to fix your car or teeth. No, you just want them to not contradict the constitution in whatever they do but you’d hope they would follow an engineering or dentistry manual that was much, much more detailed in regards to the particular subject than the constitution.
20 or more years ago I still met yogis in India who could quote from 200 or more yoga shastras (scriptures). The Yoga Sutra has 195 stanzas (196 in some recensions). What can you write in 195 short stanzas? Yoga is a 10,000-year-old organism that cannot be reduced to 195 short sentences. In order to understand it completely and to make sweeping statements one needs to study dozens of yoga shastras. Somadeva, the author of the monumental 56-chapter Hatha Tatva Kaumudi (currently my favorite shastra), quotes from 64 (!!!) yoga shastras. Good on him! That’s what we need!
I have noted that many yoga associations now require their teacher trainings apart from the Yoga Sutra to also cover at least the Bhagavad Gita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. A step in the right direction! The more shastras a training covers the better, I tend to think.
Another thought: In India the Yoga Sutra is considered a sacred document and not an object of speculation. From my teachers in India, through my over 30 years of yoga practice and study of yoga scriptures I learned the following baseline: Before the world was projected forth yoga, consisting of thousands of treatises, existed in eternal perfection in the intellect of the Divine. As the world then unfolded, the various shastras being applicable to various world ages (yugas), were promulgated. During the Kali Yuga (present time) most of these teachings are lost due to entropy (break down and disorder). During the great dissolution (Mahapralaya) the entire universe is reabsorbed into the body of the Supreme Being were the yoga shastras, together with all religions and philosophy will rest during a long brahmic night. Only to then be again projected forth at the dawn of the next brahmic day, when a new universes is born in the next Big Bang. So says Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (BG 4.1) “Previously I taught this ancient yoga to Vivashvat and Manu (would be about equivalent to Abraham and Noah in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition). It was lost through the lapse of time, that’s why I am now teaching it now to you, oh Arjuna”.
Now let me trace that view in the Yoga Sutra. In Sutra I.26 Patanjali states that God has taught yoga to the first human masters and that God is beyond and not subject to time. He also states that God is all-knowing (I.25) and eternally perfect (I.24), whereas even a liberated human master has still an imperfect past. If God is all-knowing, eternally perfect, outside of time and taught yoga to the ancient teachers this amounts to exactly the view stated above, which is that yoga is an eternally perfect, non-evolving teaching that is even in times when the world is not manifest preserved in the intellect of God to be again taught when the opportunity arises. The number of yogic techniques such as asanas, pranayamas, meditations, samadhis, etc is near infinite and they are reducing in number during each world age as we proceed from the Satya through the yugas towards the Kali Yuga. But their potential number is still near infinite although not many may be manifest at the present time. So says for example the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP IV.65) that the Supreme Being in form of the Lord Shiva originally taught 1 crore (i.e 10 Million) meditation exercises, which are now lost.
A few years back my eyes glanced on the front page of a Yoga Magazine which questioned “Are we re-inventing yoga?” I don’t know how you feel but I’d rather go full blast back to its origin, that’s where the original splendor lies.
3. The importance that yoga places on deleting bodily, tissue and cell memory and what attitude the yogi needs to do so.
To inquire into this we first need to understand yoga’s panchakosha model. The model was already alluded to in Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad but found its fullest expression in Taittiriya Upanishad (II.2-5). The Upanishad describes the human being consisting of five, consecutively deeper layers, which are Annamaya kosha (the body), Pranamaya kosha (breath and prana), Manomaya kosha (the mind), Vijnanamaya kosha (deep knowledge and pure intelligence) and Anandamaya kosha (Divine ecstasy). Important to understand is that the layers are interconnected and each manifests and results out of the others. For example if you have a mental trauma this will have a physical equivalent and a pranic (energetic) equivalent in the respective sheaths. You cannot go straight to divine ecstasy as long as your mind is conditioned. Conditioned mind will have of course its correlatives in the other sheaths.
Another theme that I only want to touch briefly upon is yoga’s teaching of the three layers of the body: sthula sharira (gross anatomical body), sukshma sharira (pranic or astral body) and karana sharira (causal body). Long-term conditioning is stored in the karana sharira but you need to purify the gross body first through kriya and asana. Richard Freeman called asana practice to comb through the body with an increasingly fine-toothed comb to release tension (Yoga Matrix).
Patanjali yoga purifies/develops the five sheaths through asana (the body), pranayama (the pranic sheath), meditation (the mind), objective samadhi (the intelligence sheath) and objectless samadhi (experience of Divine ecstasy). The first five of the obstacles that Patanjali describes in sutra I.30, which are sickness, rigidity, doubt, negligence and laziness, have a very strong physical component. I have described the obstacles and their components in detail in my forthcoming pranayama book.
In sutra I.50-51 Patanjali has briefly described the necessity to purify the mind from conditioning (vasana), which is only an accumulation of subconscious imprints (samskara). He is going into more detail in the third chapter of the Sutra. This de- and reconditioning can only be successful if all sheaths (but particularly the lower three, body, breath and mind) are targeted simultaneously. Otherwise your conditioning will reboot from the sheath that you did not clean, similarly as you would reinstall your operating system from your backup drive after it got infected.
I have roughly described the process of de-conditioning of the body through yogic asana in the introduction of Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy. In a nutshell: Practice all asanas with absolute anatomical precision and without being ambitious and aggressive at all. When sensations, ideas or concepts come up release them by means of the exhalation. Be compassionate with yourself and do not practice to succeed, to improve or to get somewhere, because this would impose another layer of the ambitious mind on the body. BKS Iyengar for example has called the result of such practice ‘cellular silence’. I like that one because he understood that a noisy body impedes your meditation.
Now this next point is really important to understand: The Armenian mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, who was inspired and taught by yogis and Sufis, said that true knowledge is of physical nature. In today’s language we could say it is a biochemical and bioelectrical process. What he meant was that its not just something that you think but that transforms every fiber and cell of your being. Yoga considers asana and pranayama to be the part to alchemically transform the body so that it becomes a representation of living deep knowledge, vijnana as the Upanishads call it or rta as Patanjali has it. The reason for that lies in the fact that opposed to Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, the school of yoga considers THE UNIVERSE AND THUS THE BODY TO BE REAL. Yoga does not look at the world and the body as illusion. Yoga looks at the body as a very real replication of the real macrocosm and therefore aims at transforming the body into a laboratory for knowledge. Due to the maxim of Hermes Trismegistos (Emerald Tablet stanza 2) “that which is beneath is as that which is above and that which is above is as that which is beneath”, the body is a reflection of the state of the mind. Not only that but as I already mentioned in Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy, ‘It is the crystallized history of our past thoughts, emotions and actions’. Yoga teaches that if you want to change your mind, you need to change your body as well because your body is nothing but the gross (sthula) projection of your mental state (of course not just the conscious mind). That’s why the Hatha Yoga Pradipika says (HYP IV.113), “Before the prana does not enter the sushumna all this talk of knowledge (jnana) is futile and boastful.” Svatmarama, its author considered this statement so important that he finishes off the treatise on this note.
Back to Patanjali who says in the Yoga Sutra (YS I.43), ‘nirvitarka samapatthi (the 2nd-lowest form of samadhi) is the emptying of memory from its content’. As the body is the physical back-up drive of the mind, the memory must also be let go of on a physical plane. That’s what a course in yogic asana attempts to do and what the mere sitting with your back, neck and head in a straight line cannot achieve.
I want to finish of this essay on a devotional note as a lot of us modern yogis have thoroughly accepted yoga’s tenet that the body is real. But have we yoga’s other tenet that the divine self, the pure consciousness is also real? Especially if you succeed in your asana practice (such as getting to advanced levels) then do not take the credit but surrender all results of your asana practice to the Divine in your preferred form. For otherwise you will superimpose a new layer of conditioning instead of removing the old one. Rumi said in this regard “I tried to enter the city of God through the gate of empowerment but I found such a large crowd in front of it that I could not enter. Then I came to the gate of humiliation. I could easily slip in as there was nobody there.”
4. Is pranayama just the slowing and extension of the breath (aka Ujjayi) or is it more?
Pranayama is defined in Yoga Sutra II.49 as extension of inhalation and exhalation (for example Ujjayi during Ashtanga Vinyasa). Sutra II.50, however, gives a deeper meaning of pranayama as various breath retentions which are called internal, external and midway suspension. An even more advanced meaning is given in sutra II.51 that talks about spontaneous suspension (called chaturtah by Patanjali and Kevala Kumbhaka in Hatha Yoga Pradipika). These three meanings can only be experienced consecutively. This means: 1. Start pranayama by slowing down the breath. 2. Continue pranayama through formal practice of breath retentions sitting in Padmasana, Siddhasana, etc. 3. Once you have thus mastered prana through years of formal breath retentions, prana suspends and thus the mind, which is fan powered. Samadhi will thus be attained. This is of course very, very simplified. In my forthcoming pranayama book I have dedicated several hundred pages to this process. There is even a section called ‘why Ashtanga Vinyasa yogis need to go beyond Ujjayi’. This means that while it is correct to say that Ujjayi is pranayama, the reverse is incorrect. Meaning, yes you are practicing pranayama when you practice Ujjayi during vinyasa but pranayama is larger than Ujjayi. Shitali, Surya Bhedana, Bhastrika, kumbhakas etc also need to be practiced.
I had to push this out quickly, hope not too many typos. I’m off for the week, hope you have a great time. Also got to get back to working on my meditation book. Its sub-title is “A Break-Through Method to Spiritual Freedom” and I mean it. It contains very powerful ancient yogic meditation techniques.
I hope my rambling instilled you with enthusiasm for your practice. Enthusiasm is a beautiful word. Comes from the Greek enthous, meaning ‘inspired by God’.
This dude is SO smart. Love it that he mentions Grimmly. Grimmly has provided a lot of GREAT online research and his passion for Vinyasa Krama made me VERY interested in the teachings of Sri Ramaswami. Luckily the other day I found a local student is attending his teacher training soon. Sign me up when you get back Josh! Although Grimmmly has provided a lot of information through his site, his photos, video, and his book.
Last night I posted I feel like a newbie. All this has brought me back to the original teachings of yoga. I feel like I am starting from scratch again as I revisit old books and read all this vast wealth of yoga research online. Gregor insists that the original books are the place to research. Dozens of people are writing books on yoga, but for me, sticking with the original is the best. This has shifted the way I want to continue to work in teacher training.
Today is cold and rainy. I practiced a little with the Advanced yogis this morning in the hot room. The rest of the day is cleaning the home, hanging out with the hubby, and reading blogs and doing research. More of the same tomorrow with Intermediate series tomorrow morning.
Enjoy reading this post from Gregor Maehle per Facebook. You can friend him and see the wisdom he has to impart.